Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reinvention Challenge in Review – My Three Most Powerful Words

It has been one month since I began my reinvention challenge on my 52nd birthday - I decided it was time to make a change in my life and reinvent my career. To do so I implemented James Altucher's five year plan:

In year one you are to flail and read everything and just start to DO.
I am happy with my first month’s progress. Here are my results:

I ruled out two ideas I had been contemplating:

Food Blogging:
I am interested in food and healthy eating while my husband is the real cook in our home and a foodie. I had seriously been considering creating a food blog with my husband until I attempted to read Dianne Jacob's book Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More (Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Blogs,). I realized writing about food is hard and not for me. In addition to food writing Norine Dworkin-McDaniel informs us in my post's comments writing about music and dance are also hard which is good to know.

Moving back to the country:
My husband, an avid fly-fisherman, has tried to talk me into purchasing property in western Wisconsin; the area of my youth for several years now. Reading Melissa Coleman's book This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone about her parent’s experience with homesteading reminded me of growing up on a farm. Living in a rural area is incredibly isolating and raising your own food is hard work. At this stage of my life I prefer to live in a more urban setting and to vacation in a country setting. There will be no homesteading in my future.

The Savvy Career Interview:
I decided to make my career interviews a regular series. This month I interviewed Adrian of Adrian's Crazy Life about her corporate career. She provided a realistic inside look into what working for a large corporation is really like.

I also read a few great career reinvention posts around the Web:

Margaret Manning shares 11 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting a Business After 50. This post is packed with insight for anyone looking to start an on-line company.

Catherine Gacad realizes she wasn't born to be a mom. She was born to be a career mom.

Jennifer Ludwigsen quit her corporate job this month to become a freelancer. She has completed her first full week at home and shares 10 Surprising Facts About Working From Home.

What I didn’t accomplish:
I accepted a review copy of Katie Botten’s book The Professional Woman's Guide to Giving Feedback Since one of my reinvention goals is to improve my communication skills I am excited to read this book. Despite it being a short book, only 50 pages long, I did not find time to read this book in August and am adding it to my September to-do list.

What else is on my agenda for September?
I am happy to be co-hosting the Travel the World in Book's Readathon September 1-14, 2014 with Mom's Small Victories and Lost in Books.  I challenged myself to read 50 nonfiction books that take place in 50 different countries other than my own over the next five years when I announced the Travel the World in Books Challenge. The readathon should give me the incentive to get started on this challenge. I’ve made a tentative list of the books I plan to read during the readathon and know for sure one will be a reinvention book.

The readathon is a great chance to explore our world by reading books set in other countries or by authors from countries other than the one where you live. If you are interested in participating please head over to Tanya's site to sign up:

Keeping with the diversity in book's theme I will also be joining Aarti's a more diverse universe challenge. The rules for this one are simple.  All I have to do is read one book written by a person of color during the last two weeks of September.


Revelation of the month:
In a post on Laurie Reuttimann’s site she writes about her friend Gregory Ng who believes that your personal brand comes down to 3 words. She then asks what are the three most powerful words you could use to describe yourself?

I put a great deal of thought into mine and came up with the three words that best describe me TODAY. They are:

Accountant, exerciser and reader

I was surprised the main words I use to describe myself is accountant since I'm not sure I want to continue working in this capacity – but then I did spend most of my life studying to be or working as an accountant. Perhaps I can find a way to blend the areas of my accounting career I enjoy into my new career.

It will be interesting to repeat this exercise in a year to see how and if my three words change.

What are your three most powerful words? What are your goals for September?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Corporate Career Interview

Have you ever considered a career in corporate America? Wondered what it would be like working for a large company? What it takes to be successful? Then you’ve come to the right place.

Today Adrian of Adrian's Crazy Life shares her career story while providing valuable insight into working for a corporation in today’s savvy career interview:

How did you get started working in corporate America?

Working in an office was the last thing I wanted.  I wanted a career in the performing arts, but one of my music teachers so squashed my dreams that I made a complete right turn, dropped all my music classes, and started taking computer classes instead.  I started at Kodak’s Corporate offices as a photocopy clerk and a receptionist when I was about 18.  I’m 53 now and I’ve worked pretty much continuously since then. 

What is your career history?

Even though I’ve worked for my current financial services company for 23 years, before that, I worked at a ton of different places.  I always had some kind of clerical or finance job, but I worked at Rockwell, Allergan, Rite-Aid, DeLorean, Coca-Cola, a real estate firm, a pharmaceutical company, all sorts of places.  Some were very small and some were the largest companies in the world.  Some of them I’ve quit, some I’ve been laid off, and some I’ve been fired from.  It’s been an interesting career. 

DeLorean was funny because all the executives had company cars and they were all these identical silver chrome cars, so they had to number the parking spaces, so each of them could find the correct car every night! 

What kind of experience and preparation helped you the most?

Nothing special, really.  My mother insisted I take a typing course in High School.  I disagreed bitterly with her at the time, but I can type 75 WPM, so I guess it came in handy.  I took a couple of very early programming courses, but the rest is pretty much self-taught.  I think it’s important to just have the idea that there is always a way to get what you want.  Even if you don’t think so in the beginning, if you are determined and stick with something long enough, you’ll find a way through, under, or over that obstacle to get what you really want. 

I do think that a college degree is over-hyped.  I hear so many people saying that they want to go back to school to do this thing or that thing.  I say, just find an entry-level spot doing it and work your way up from there.  School is such a tremendous expenditure of time and money and it doesn’t always pay off.  I know so many people who have a degree in something and work in a completely different field.  Almost no one in my family has a degree and we are all doing just fine. 

Would you recommend this same path to someone starting out today? Why or why not?

I don’t know.  It was kind of hit and miss, really.  I didn’t have any particular plan in mind, but things worked out pretty well – each job would be slightly better and pay more than the one before.  It was pretty tough sometimes.  I’ve had some really bad bosses and some really good ones.  I think I’ve stayed where I am for so long because I have good bosses and I’d be worried about getting with a bad boss again.  A 40 hour week is a long time when someone is making you miserable. 

I think the tough part was that I never felt like I could take a break, even when I had my children.  I had a brief maternity leave and then I needed to get right back to work because we had bills to pay that weren’t just going to disappear because I had a baby to take care of.  But it worked out just fine.  I found great babysitters and family members to watch my 3 sons and my bosses were always very good about allowing me flexibility to spend some time home with them.  And I would make the most of what time we did have.  I did a lot of homeschooling with my youngest, even while working a full time job.  I had him reading by age 4 and doing math and all sorts of stuff.  I would carry flash cards in my purse and we would listen to Spanish tapes in the car.  I even had special placemats at mealtimes and educational posters all over the walls.  It was really fun and rewarding for both of us.  And all 3 of my boys have turned out awesomely, so I guess it worked out very well. 

What do you like best about your work?

I am a button-pushing fool.  I love to do stuff with computers, particularly spreadsheets and huge databases.  A lot of my job is finding errors on phone bills and trying to find better ways to save money on our telecom services.  Being able to dig deep into the data and really understand it has helped me to do a good job with that.  Over the years, I have probably saved the company around five MILLION dollars, all by myself.  I definitely earn my keep! 

What is your biggest headache?

Office politics can be kind of tricky.  I can be outspoken sometimes and I’ve stepped on a few toes.  I have to learn to kind of keep to myself and focus on the work sometimes and not offer my opinion as much.  Friendships at work can be kind of interesting and sometimes it has a very “High School” feel with cliques, and teacher’s pets.  I try to stay positive and not get a lot of energy to negative stuff or negative people. 

What are the important personal qualities or abilities necessary for a person to be successful working in a large corporation?

Wow, good question!  Technical skills are important, but not nearly as much as interpersonal skills.  You have to be able to get along with people and be able to articulate your ideas well.  Being reliable is huge.  I am a complete stickler for meeting deadlines and keeping commitments, and many people aren’t.  If you get a reputation for being flaky and undependable, you aren’t going to do well.  Deliver what you promise – every time! 

How many hours do you work each week?

It depends.  I’m salaried, so I have a bit of flexibility and we also get one or two telecommute days per week, which are like gold!  But I average at least 40 hours in most weeks and up to 50 or so when I’m working on a big project.  I also do a lot of volunteer work and have been named one of my company’s top volunteers for the last two years, so I work probably another 20-30 hours a month as a Scout leader and helping with my son’s youth group. 

How has your work or company changed over the years?

It’s shocking to realize how much the technology has changed over the years.  Desktop computers simply didn’t exist when I started and when they came out, we would have like ONE that the whole department would share.  I literally found a switchboard that I’ve actually USED in a museum.  That’s just freaky.  Typewriters have gone completely extinct in my lifetime.  I can’t remember the last time I saw one.  I don’t know if someone starting out in an office today would know how to use one, yet they used to be in every home and every office.  You wonder what technology will be like 20 years from now? 

I see you have a passion for organization.  I have written before about my messy desk at work.  Do you have any suggestions to help me become more organized?

Part of it is understanding WHY your desk is messy.  Here’s a big secret – my desk is messy too, but it’s an organized messy.  I’m a very visual person and if I put work out of sight, I am likely to forget about it.  So I have different zones on my desk for different steps in my process.  If it needs to be logged in, it goes here, if it needs to be input, it goes there, if it needs research, it goes into this pile.  You have to respect the style that works best for you, but if you can set a time for even 5 minutes a day to organize yourself and maybe even make a quick to-do list, you’ll get a lot more done in a lot less time, and you’ll be able to lay your hands on any paper on your desk in 2 seconds.  I’m not there to have a pretty desk, I’m there to get stuff done! 

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about yourself or your career?

I guess I would say don’t believe everything people tell you.  People say you can’t get a good job without a college degree – bull!  You can’t do a good job of raising your children if you work – bull!  Women can’t get ahead in the workplace – bull!  I know a lot of smart and determined women who do just fine.  Look at the real situation and decide for yourself, and if you really want something, don’t let anything stand in your way.  And life is too short to put up with bad bosses – if you’re unhappy somewhere, there is a better place for you.  Put all your energy into finding it – rather than wasting your time putting up with some jerk who doesn’t believe in you.  I will work my heart out for someone who appreciates me, but someone who is critical and too controlling, they aren’t going to get my best effort.  Remember that if you are the boss. 

Where can we find you?

I’m always hanging out over at Adrian'  I’ve been blogging and posting several times a week since 2007.  Mostly organizing and financial tips with some parenting ideas and a hint of crafty stuff thrown into the mix. 
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and brokeGIRLrich*

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why I Will Never Be a Homesteader

I discovered Melissa Coleman's book This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undoneon Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness’s site when she included it in her Nonfiction Recommendation Engine: Memorable Memoirs. She describes this book as just stunning… ominous, elegant, honest and evocative and was able to read it in a single sitting. 

What is the This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone about?
In the fall of 1968 Melissa’s parents Elliot and Sue Coleman buy a small piece of property on a remote peninsula on the coast of Maine from Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the homesteading bible Living the good Life how to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World.  Their dream is to build a home with their own hands then live off the land. They become part of the back-to-land movement of the 70’s. All does not go well and eventually their family becomes undone. Melissa’s memoir explores her early childhood growing up on the homestead while learning to better understand her past.
Motivation for reading:
I grew up on a dairy farm in rural western Wisconsin in the 70’s. When I graduated from high school my goal was to get as far away from the farm as possible. My husband on the other hand is an avid fly fisherman, loves the outdoors and dreams of owning a log home on a couple of acres in Wisconsin's driftless area in our retirement years. I thought reading this book might help me determine whether I was judging my former life too harshly.

My thoughts:
I was not disappointed with this book. Like Kim, I found it to be an engrossing read and would categorize it as a nonfiction book that reads like fiction. Coleman’s story reminded me of Jeanette Well’s book The Glass Castle especially in her ability to write about her parents without bitterness.

I was impressed with how the book accurately portrays the difficulties that come with living off the land:
The reality of this way of life is that you have got to keep at it even when you don’t feel like it. Otherwise you won’t make it. It’s no life for dabblers. You have to dig it wholeheartedly, for if you don’t you just simply won’t be happy nor successful at what you do. (Pg. 111)
Coleman also does an excellent job of describing how isolating this life can be. In an article featured in the New York Times covering the Coleman’s reporter Roy Reed wrote:
“Self-sufficiency proves too difficult for many. Marital stresses, for example, are exaggerated in isolated areas around the country.” (Pg. 205)
I was happy to see her mention the problems of living without health insurance. Many of the books I’ve read (both fiction and nonfiction) covering “dropping out” or “living off the land” fail to discuss medical insurance. Elliott Coleman develops Graves' disease despite his strict vegetarian diet. Lack of medical insurance delays treatment and his health and stamina continue to decline. An underlying fear develops - what happens if Elliot becomes too sick to work.

I came away with a better understanding of organic farming.
Elliot Coleman ultimately becomes an organic farming guru. Here is one of his early influences:
It wasn't until the second summer of 1970 that I really began to understand gardening. That was the summer I read Sir Albert’s classic, An Agricultural Testament,  in which Howard claims that if plants are healthy there is no role for insects. (Pg. 66)
I won’t reveal what happens, but will say I did shed a tear of two. 

Bottom Line:  
If you are interested in self-sufficiency or the homestead movement and enjoy a good story this book is for you.  It would also make a good selection for a nonfiction book club. My only criticism is Coleman’s use of the first person in writing about events and conversations that occurred before she was born and when she was very young. Plus, her thoughts are too advanced for her age. In addition, I would have preferred more analysis of her parent’s actions and a discussion of her life after she left the homestead. Perhaps she will write a sequel. 

As to my own recollections of the farming life – I believe they are accurate. I foresee myself visiting western Wisconsin for a vacation or two, but I will never again live there permanently.
Have you ever considered leaving the corporate world to live off the land?

 Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Should I Follow-Up After Submitting Resume?

I received the following question from a personal trainer looking for additional work?
I am looking for additional opportunities to help supplement my in-home personal training business. I have submitted my resume to several gyms in my area without a response. Should I call to follow-up?
My immediate inclination was to say no. Alison Green of Ask A Manager frequently writes:
As for following up … don’t call. They have your application. They know you’re interested. You will annoy them if you call.
This resume was not sent in response to an ad. It was sent with the hope of the recipient being so impressed with the resume they’d create a position for the applicant. I decided to get a second opinion.

One of my fitness instructors previously owned a gym. Before class one night, I asked her opinion of job applicants following-up on resumes:

She actually preferred it and would be impressed. As a gym owner she needed trainers who were willing to call a clients to say we haven't seen you in a while. By following up on your resume you are demonstrating you have the ability to do this. She said to say something like, "I am following up on a resume I sent you. I want to make sure you received it and if you had any questions."

Then this weekend I asked my sister-in-law who is an HR Director at a large insurance company for a third opinion. She too thinks following up is okay, but recommends only calling ONCE. She feels the reason so many applicants feel the need to call is actually an HR problem. They don’t send rejection letters soon enough and many HR departments do not send rejection letters at all.

Do you think applicants should follow-up after sending resumes?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why I’ll Never Be a Food Blogger

A couple of months ago a woman I know signed up for a six-week boot camp program to lose weight before an upcoming family wedding. She prefers participating in intense exercise programs over crash dieting when trying to lose weight quickly. Unfortunately this time around she injured her knee during a running exercise two weeks in. Her orthopedic reluctantly agreed to give her a cortisone shot before the wedding, so she'd be able to walk without pain. Since she still wanted to lose weight, she asked when she could rejoin her boot camp class. To her surprise he said, "Never."  Considering her age - 52 and her physical condition he would never recommend she participate in let alone begin an exercise program with a boot camp.  Instead he suggested she change her diet and once her knee healed - walk for 30 minutes every day.  If she did these two things he guaranteed she'd lose weight.

What diet changes did he recommend?
The majority of her diet should consist of fruits, vegetables and proteins.  A serving of protein should be the size of her fist with the remainder of her plate being filled with fruits and vegetables.  

An idea for a food blog is born:
Almost immediately she began complaining about her new diet: fruits and vegetables were expensive, they spoiled too quickly, her husband and son wouldn't eat them, it was only week two and she was already tired of salads.

I came up with an idea for a food blog - The Savvy Diet - it would be based on meals consisting of vegetables, fruits and proteins.  I began researching seasonal foods and planning healthy menus with families and budgets in mind.  I took photos of my meals and jotted down post ideas. I began reading Dianne Jacob's book Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More (Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Blogs,).

Why I'll never be a food blogger:
While reading about good writing and a food writer's voice in Will Write for Food I became overwhelmed with feelings of imposter syndrome not only for food writing, but for all writing.  (Note my absence from this blog).  I set the book aside.

Then while perusing a recipe for peaches and cream cake given to me by the above woman I noticed she had written in the margin next to the ingredients, "I use raspberry flavored peaches (Del Monte)."  At that moment I knew I was not a foodie and would never be a food blogger.  I would never, not ever in this life time, have thought to add a raspberry flavored peaches to this recipe or to any recipe.  I returned my copy of Will Write for Food to the library without ever reading the chapter on food blogging.

What does this mean for my Career Reinvention Challenge?
According to James Altucher in his post The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Reinventing Yourself to discover your "it" you should go to the bookstore and find 500 books about it. If you get bored three months later go back to the bookstore. As to my career reinvention I've ruled out food blogging/writing and I'm heading back to the library.

What qualities do you think make a successful food writer/blogger?

Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Career Reinvention at 52

Today is my Birthday, I am 52 years old.  When I graduated from high school my mother was 42, at that time I couldn't contemplate ever being 42 much less 52.  My goals at 18 were to get as far away from my family farm in western Wisconsin as possible and to live a life as unlike my mother's as I could.  I envisioned my life to be much like my high school French teacher's. She lived, what seemed to me, a cultured life in Madison, Wisconsin and traveled to Europe each summer. Unfortunately my life didn't turn out quite like that.

Instead all I do is work.  When I'm not working I'm thinking about work or not sleeping because I'm stressed about work.  As you may recall last year I didn't use nine of my earned vacation days and this year I'm heading in the same direction.  It is always something - a deadline I am required to meet, an audit that needs my attention or a meeting I am required to attend. This week I went in while sick to calculate commissions that were too difficult to explain over the phone. Part of the problem is my company's A-type work culture and part is my ingrained dairy farmer work ethic. A small dairy farmer never takes a vacation day and has to milk the cows even when sick.

My only plan of escape is to retire early.  If all goes well that will be six years from today.  One of my former co-workers retired early last November.  He too had an over-developed work ethic. As a stress reliever he began counting down his work days until retirement.  Instead of answering the phone with hello he would say "232 days."  The other day while commiserating with another co-worker about our heavy workloads I said, "6 years and 3 days."   He replied, "Don't start that."  He thought our retired co-worker's count down was super annoying.

I don't want to become the annoying co-worker with the bad attitude and besides 6 years is a long time to be miserable.  It is also a long time to never take a vacation day and to work while sick. Plus, I don't think I'm the type of person who could lounge in retirement bliss. I will want to do something. Instead I need to figure this out and somehow reinvent my career. Ever since I started blogging I've had visions of living where ever I want and making a living in some fashion from my laptop. Doing what is the question.

My favorite career reinvention post is James Altucher's The Ultimate Cheat Sheet For Reinventing Yourself. He says it takes five years to reinvent yourself.  Here is his recommended five-year plan:
  • Year One: you’re flailing and reading everything and just starting to DO.
  • Year Two: you know who you need to talk to and network with. You’re Doing every day. You finally know what the monopoly board looks like in your new endeavors.
  • Year Three: you’re good enough to start making money. It might not be a living yet.
  • Year Four: you’re making a good living
  • Year Five: you’re making wealth
So in my 52nd year I plan to read everything and start to Do.  Altucher claims reading 200-500 books are equal to one good mentor. I'm not going to write about how difficult it is to find time to read.  I love reading, so I'm just going to get busy and read.  I will keep you informed about what I learn.

I also plan to continue my career interview series.  My interviewees have been informative, passionate and helpful. If you would like to be part of this series please email me at

Have you reinvented your career?  If so, what helped you the most? 

Monday, July 07, 2014

Don't Believe Anyone Else's Fears

One of my favorite sections in Jenn Aubert's book Women Entrepreneur Revolution: Ready! Set! Launch!: 100+ Successful Women Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Tips on What Works, What Doesn't (and Why) ... a Business and Designing a Life You Love is the chapter titled Gems of Wisdom. It includes business advice from the over 100 female entrepreneurs Aubert interviewed for her book.

I especially enjoyed this gem from Michelle James the CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence:
Give yourself space, time, and attention to hear your inner source of guidance. Let it surprise you.  And don't believe anyone else's fears - the naysayers - it's a reflection of their fears. (Pg. 214)
I immediately thought of my brother and his never ending torrent of business ideas.  When he asks me to evaluate them I am almost always negative; he will lose his home, never find another day job and his family will end up living in a van by the river.   This quote helped me realize my objections are more about my fears and values - I value security - than his ideas.   

Shawne Duperon of Shawne TV provides an example of the advice I should be giving him:
Get cash flow handled.  BE sure to have at least 3 primary clients so you can generate and play in marketing. Don't borrow money for PR.  Cash flow is king and lowers fear so you can play.  (Pg. 218) 
Since I know he likes a good investment tip, this one is for you B:

At a recent seminar Bruce Johnstone, CFA was asked where he would invest $100,000 today:
He began by reminding the crowd interest rates will not remain as low as they are today, so first he would leverage his real estate.  Then he would use that money along with the $100k to invest in early stage venture capitalist projects such as purification of fracking water, developing insulation products and waste to energy products.  He would invest in all of these before solar and wind. 

There you have it younger brother, if you decide to go ahead with his plan don't ask my opinion because Johnstone lost me at the word leverage.